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Friday, August 20, 2021

Silver Springs man says he’s called OPD ’50 times’ this year, asks council to reconsider panhandling repeal

A Silver Springs resident, who says he has called the Ocala Police Department “50 times” this year to enforce the city’s panhandling and begging laws, expressed his opposition to the Ocala City Council’s introduction of an ordinance to repeal the laws. 

The ordinance to repeal sections 22-361, 58-170, and 58-171 of city code as they relate to panhandling, begging, and soliciting in the roadways, came before Ocala City Council during its regular meeting on Tuesday, August 17. 

Stephen Janoski, who lives on NE 50th Avenue, says his family moved to Silver Springs in 1979 and that his community uses the panhandling law as a tool against crime. 

“Now, y’all want to remove the panhandling law. It’s the only law that we have to control people,” said Janoski, who suggested the area would “run amok” without the ordinances. 

Janoski says he frequently encounters panhandling, drugs, and prostitution in the area and that he has relied heavily on help provided by local law enforcement. 

“I must have called Ocala Police 50 times this year. We leave our subdivision, we’ve got panhandlers,” said Janoski. 

Janoski says that he and his neighbors frequently use the threat of the ordinance and police to address what he described as a growing issue.

“When we moved here in ‘79, Silver Springs was a gorgeous place to live. Now, we’re to the point that it’s become a slum.” 

After Janoski concluded his comments, Mayor Kent Guinn and Assistant City Attorney W. James Gooding III suggested the city was being forced to repeal the law by federal courts for fear of losing future and ongoing litigation. 

Guinn said residents could “thank the ACLU” for the repeal of the ordinance, referring to a lawsuit filed by, among other groups, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of multiple homeless individuals against the city of Ocala. 

Guinn and Gooding indicated the city would draft a new version of the ordinance in the future.

Now that the ordinance to repeal has been introduced, Ocala City Council will vote on the measure during its September meetings.